Finding Your Concept: Ideas for Screenplays

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Finding Your Concept: Ideas for Screenplays

Finding the concept for your script is a huge pain in the butt for screenwriters. It often feels like every possible idea has already been done. No matter what crazy mad libs brainstorming process you try, someone has beaten you to it, or it just feels derivative.

There’s an alternate way to brainstorm, though, one based more in emotion, and less in plot. First, you need to know what type of script you want to write. Are you a comedy writer? A horror aficionado? A thriller junkie?

Whatever your genre slant, ask yourself, what scares you? What topic is the most troubling? What topic do you least want to face in your writing? Maybe your father was an alcoholic, so you’ve always avoided writing stories that deal with alcoholism. Perhaps you nearly drowned as a child, and have carefully avoided writing any stories set on the open ocean.

Whatever that fear or discomfort area is, write into it. Let’s play out an example. Divorce is a common event; divorce rates are extremely high. Let’s say your parents, or you personally, went through a traumatic divorce.

A comedy writer might come up with something like MRS. DOUBTFIRE. A horror writer might invent something like Korean phenom Park Chan-Wook’s film THIRST, which is about a toxic romance between two vampires.

John Krasinki has said publicly that A QUIET PLACE is about parenthood, and that he was particularly attuned to that topic because he read the script shortly after the birth of his daughter. And it so powerfully evokes that emotion of wanting to protect your children that it’s been a smash hit creatively and commercially, all over the world, grossing 332 million worldwide, 144 million of which was from the foreign market.

Recently, WONDER WOMAN and BLACK PANTHER have achieved stratospheric success, even within the relative terms of superhero film success, because they are about female empowerment and race. In widely disparate genres, the concepts come out of emotional ideas, and just get applied into a genre framework.

How do you approach developing screenplay concepts? There’s no wrong answer! Please comment below.

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